The New WORD

If the Department of Film and Media Studies is really serious about journalism education as well as improving student writing, it should seriously consider requiring students in its approximately 15 journalism-related and dozen-plus media theory classes to submit articles and papers to the student-run news media for dissemination. This initiative could be a significant educational catalyst, and F/M could nurture independent student journalism without being intrusive.

I know how some colleagues are put off by “nurturing” undergraduates but nurturing most definitely should be part of F/M’s journalism mission. Term papers can make for really good op ed and opinion articles as well as, of course, inspiring students to develop portfolios of their class assignments even if they want to pursue paths in communications and media other than journalism. This suggestion, which I’ve been espousing for years, is a better initiative than F/M’s years of smoke-and-mirrors stratagems, and would make up for the department’s sinister contribution to the undermining of student journalism.

And, of course, F/M should firmly establish academic standards, something the department’s been loathed to do because of that Icky Yucky Loathsome Rationale (IYLR). Now is the time to renounce the flimflam and the rationale. The benefits for students could be significant, and transcendent, well beyond their learning merely to develop basic critical thinking and writing and communication skills. Yes, there is skepticism that critical thinking can be taught in news writing classes such as basic reporting – MEDP 292 – but it can be done if instructors buck the status quo (or the perception of) and be imaginative.

Requiring students to develop assignments for publication can generate dreaded images of increased teaching loads. However, the real effort is this: A re-evaluation of the perceptions of students and a reconsideration of teaching methods. This thinking, obviously, is antagonistic to prevailing thought/practices, such as, for example, F/M shouldn’t have a copy editing class because the students lack the talent. Again, I believe, this suggestion – which I have been espousing for years – is better than F/M’s traditional stratagems, which won’t be elaborated here but in another forum. And, of course, there is the IYLR matter, which also needs to be addressed but not here.

To reiterate, the benefits could be significant and F/M colleagues could crow loudly – and truthfully – about the department’s greatness and magnanimity (which would include significant improvement in encouraging and recognizing student efforts and achievements). There is one catch, however: ThirtyFortyP. That’s the percent range of students (undergraduates usually in their mid 20s to late 30s) whose class attendance and class participation are abysmal. They are the ones who draw upon learned strategies – tantrums, the overly used duh-stratagem and insane belligerence and other ploys – to get grades that they don’t serve.

I can clearly demonstrate this opinion based on many years of grade appeals, complaints to the Ombuds Office, memos sent to F/M colleagues, administrators, recollections of conversations and, of course, posts on the College’s main listserv, Hunter-L.

Dealing with the ThirtyFortyP issue (and the Hunterites who advocate for them) is the real challenge.

More later but not here.

Gregg Morris

2 Responses to “The New WORD”

  1. There is nothing more important for a journalist trying to break into the field than having published clips. I’m sure most students have heard it more than once–there are many journalists out there who never went to journalism school nor took any journalism classes. However, they went out of their way, initially, to publish as much as possible anywhere, even if it means giving away their hard work for free.

    If I hadn’t taken Reporting Classes–specifically, Prof. Greggory Morris’, who made sure that students came out with published clips — I would never have been able to have had the internship and work experience that I’ve done.

    After only publishing five clips, I earned myself an internship at the NY Daily News editorial board. Soon after, thanks to those who have seen and trusted my work (yes, those pesky clips!), I was hired for a monthly magazine as an associate editor and eventually moved up to become the editor-in-chief.

    Today, as a professional who has opted to enroll in Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, I hear it still, again and again: There is nothing more valuable than published clips. Even in school, I am working as a freelance writer.

    This should not even be a question for students and faculty to debate.

    I know that undergraduate students have the capacity to take on more writing responsibilities in their reporting classes than the Film and Media Studies Department thinks they can shoulder. Plus, with the support of strong editors/professors, undergrads will soon be on their way to a career-enhancing internship and job.

    And if the problem is that reporting classes requiring students to produce publishable clips will result in an increase in workload for instructors … I have one question–why have you decided to become educators? This is your chance to help develop the future of journalism. You have the chance to become mentors of future Maureen Dowds, A.J. Lieblings, Diane Sawyers, David Remnicks, and other brilliant journalists!

    To the students (if there are any) who doubt the need for published work:
    You do need them. This is a dog-eat-dog career, and if you’re unwilling to put in the effort now, when you have the ability to take advantage of educators who have an interest in your success, then you’ll likely find it more and more difficult to succeed in this field in the future. Besides, reporting work can be one of the most exhilarating experiences you will ever have.

    To Prof. Morris: Good luck in your fight for the new journalists!

  2. Vanessa Renee Casavant says:

    I agree whole-heartedly with the mission of Professor Gregg Morris in establishing a comprehensive journalism component to the Film and Media curricula at Hunter College. Now that I’m working at the University of Washington and reading their student newspaper The Daily, I can understand why I was passed up for a three-year internship position with The Seattle Times a few years ago. The internship was awarded to a fellow summer intern who was the former editor and chief of The Daily, which is an exceptional student weekly that is known to scoop both The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer from time to time.

    When I was passed over for the three-year position I was bitter at first and blamed it on the fact that the chosen intern was a “local boy,” and of course they’d choose him. Now, with hindsight, I realized that his experience of being editor and chief of his college’s newspaper far out-weighed my experience – which included writing for The Word, copy-editing for a New York magazine company, and completing a six-month intensive reporting internship at The Legislative Gazette in Albany, New York.

    Having met a cross-section of people working in journalism and communications over the past few years in reporting for a small daily newspaper, being selected as a Chips Quinn Scholar (a newsroom diversity fellowship program hosted by The Freedom Forum in Washington D.C.), and single-handedly starting up a monthly tribal government newspaper – I can attest that having the opportunity to write, edit, and be part of a printed or online college newspaper is priceless to the foundation of anyone wanting to work in communications or journalism.

    I am now the communications writer for the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington, a position I beat out more than 100 people for, and is on a career-path I would never have been on without my student contributions to The Word.

    If there is anything I could say to Hunter College’s Film and Media Department, it is that supporting a student newspaper and offering more advanced journalism classes not only show your students you believe in them – but it provides a strong foundation of skills for the voice of tomorrow.

    Vanessa Renee Casavant (B.A. in Media Studies ’07)